SUFFERING IN VAIN.
S. Etheldreda. October 17.
"HAVE YE SUFFERED SO MANY THINGS IN VAIN? IF IT BE YET IN VAIN."--GAL. III. 4.
LATELY I spoke to you of a servant: to-day I speak to you of a queen. See then how glorious a thing this is that we believe, that all those who belong to GOD'S Holy Church, and have departed in His faith and fear, are knit together in one communion and fellowship with us. None too low to be shut out from it--none too high to make it their chief glory.
We have an especial interest in S. Etheldreda, because she was an English queen. She lived in that part of this country which we now call Cambridgeshire. I know the place very well--now a little country village, where her father's palace was, and where she was born: it is called Exning: I have seen the well in which, they say, she was baptized by a holy Bishop of those times, whose name was Paulinus; and I know the Cathedral very well in which she is now awaiting the LORD'S Second Coming, the Cathedral of Ely. Her whole life was one long tissue of troubles. That is the way the Saints get to Heaven: but we seem to fancy that we have found out a pleasanter road. "That we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of GOD," S. Luke says: but we have discovered that this is too troublesome a text; and one would think that we had altered it too: that we must through much pleasure enter into the Kingdom of GOD. GOD grant that they who do so may not find themselves bitterly mistaken when it is too late!
Hear what S. Etheldreda thought of worldly pleasure. She was seized with a disease in the throat, very painful to bear. "Yes," she said, "and it is a fit punishment to me for the pleasure I once took in wearing necklaces and jewels there."
However, this is not so much what I have to say to you. You are shut out in a great measure,--partly by being poor, partly by being most of you come to those years of which the wise man says, "There is no pleasure in them"--from the delights of this world. But all of you, more or less, know what suffering means; all of you must expect to know more of it than you do now. Therefore this question of S. PauFs is very useful for you. "Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" For it shows that you may suffer in vain. CHRIST suffered, that He might be like us; but we may suffer, and not be at all like CHRIST. We read of some in the Old Testament that were the worse, not the better, for pain. King Asa, we are told, in his old age, "was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD." Of King Ahaz, it is written, "And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the LORD: this is that King Ahaz." Take care that it be not said of you, "This is that man, or that woman, whom GOD sought to bring to holiness; who was afflicted, that he might see how vain everything in this world was; who had pain, that he might learn to look forward to that world where there is no more pain; who knew that he could not have much longer to live, and yet clung to this life as if it were his all in all; who had tribulation enough here, but it did not make him fit for eternal happiness hereafter."
This is the most miserable of all states,--to lose this world, and not to gain the next; to be unable to have the pleasures of one, such as they are, and yet not to attain to the pleasures which are at GOD'S Right Hand for evermore. "If in this life only we have hope in CHRIST, we are of all men most miserable." Lazarus, that was laid at the rich man's gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from his table, moreover the dogs came and licked his sores; if he, when he died, had in hell lifted up his eyes being in torments, would have been wretched indeed. But do not deceive yourselves. It is not because Lazarus was poor, because he was full of sores, that he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. It was because his poverty and his sores made him a true servant of Him That was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. You may be as poor as Lazarus here, and yet have your portion with the rich man hereafter; just as S. Etheldreda had her portion with the rich man here, and yet now rests, like Lazarus, in Abraham's bosom.
"Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" People are fond of reckoning up how much they have suffered. But, remember, you who do so, that for all these sufferings GOD will bring you into judgment. That is, He sent them to you to bring you nearer to Himself; and He will inquire, and that very shortly, whether they did bring you nearer to Himself or not. If not, far from being better off because you had them, you will be worse off. They were means of grace, and you did not benefit by them; yes, they were talents, and you did not improve them; they ought to have made it easier for you to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset you, looking unto JESUS, the Author and Finisher of your faith; and they did not; and therefore you will hear, all the more surely, that most terrible voice, "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
But S. Paul goes on, and so would I, "if it be yet in vain." I hope not. I hope that these sufferings have been leading you, and are leading you, to GOD. Then they are blessed sufferings indeed. If we suffer--that is, if we suffer so--we shall reign with Him. "I reckon that the sufferings"--that is if this be their end--"of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
This is what is more necessary for you to feel than anything else. There are two dangers in suffering. S. Paul tells us of them both: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the LORD, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him." We ought neither to determine not to feel them, not to care about them, to go our own ways, to think our own thoughts, to do our own deeds all the same; nor yet so to murmur, so to repine, so to be discontented about them, as if we were treated cruelly and unjustly.
"Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" The Saints, of whom we are so often called to speak, this Saint of whom I am speaking, would answer, "By the grace of GOD, No." They had their perfect work in us. They taught us not to care for the things of the world. They led us to set our affections on things above. They showed us how to follow CHRIST, where He suffered as Man, and brought us to sit down with Him where He reigns as GOD.
As GOD grant that they may all of us, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake: to Whom with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.